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Virginia legislature votes to legalize marijuana in 2024 | Oklahoma Information

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RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – Virginia lawmakers on Saturday finally approved a bill legalizing adult recreational marijuana, but not until 2024, when retail sales of the drug are also due to begin.

With a compromise bill clearing the House and Senate, Virginia becomes the first southern state to vote for marijuana legalization, joining 15 other states and the District of Columbia. Legislation now goes to Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who supports legalization.

The bill was a top priority for the Democrats. They identified legalization as a necessary step to end unequal treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws. But talks between House and Senate Democrats have been tense for the past few days, and a compromise version of the massive bill was not released publicly until late Saturday afternoon.

“It was a lot of work to get here, but I would say we are on our way to a just law that allows responsible adults to use cannabis,” said Senator Adam Ebbin, the Senate Act’s lead sponsor.

Several Democrats said they hoped Northam would send the legislation back to them with changes, including speeding up the date for legalization.

“If we had already made the decision to abandon simple ownership, we could have done so today and ended disproportionate fines on color communities,” said Senator Jennifer McClellan.

“Let’s be absolutely clear – this bill is not legalization, and there are many steps between here and legalization,” she said.

Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said the governor looks forward to further improving this legislation.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but this bill will help reinvest in our communities and reduce inequalities in our criminal justice system,” she said.

According to the law, possession of up to one ounce (28.3 grams) of marijuana will become legal on January 1, 2024. At the same time, sales will begin and regulations to control the Virginia marijuana market will come into effect.

According to a provision the Senate Democrats insisted on, the legislation will include an adjournment clause that will require a second General Assembly vote next year, but only on the legal framework and criminal penalties for several offenses, including underage and public consumption Use of marijuana. A second vote on legalization is not required.

The Senate tried to legalize simple ownership earlier that year to immediately end the punishment of people with small amounts of marijuana, but House Democrats argued that legalization without a legal market for marijuana could fuel black market growth.

Legislature decriminalized marijuana last year and made simple possession a civil penalty, punishable by a fine of no more than $ 25.

House majority leader Charniele Herring said that while the legislation is not perfect, it is a “justice bill”.

“This moves us in a … direction to dismantle and remove these institutional barriers as well as over-policing, over-arrest and over-condemnation of African Americans who do not use marijuana more frequently than our white counterparts, but we seem to be getting the brunt of the criminal convictions”, said Herring.

A recent study by the Legislature’s Research and Monitoring Agency found that the average arrest rate of black people for marijuana possession from 2010 to 2019 was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate of white people. The study also found that blacks were 3.9 times more likely to be convicted than whites.

The bill plans to dedicate 30% of marijuana tax revenue – after program costs – to a cannabis equity reinvestment fund. The money would be used to help communities that have historically been over-police for marijuana crimes, with funding for scholarships, staff development, and job placement, as well as low or zero interest loans to skilled cannabis companies.

Virginians who have a marijuana-related conviction, have family members with a conviction, or live in an economically disadvantaged area could qualify as social justice applicants who would receive licenses to access the marijuana market as growers, wholesalers, processors, and others Retailers.

Most of the tax revenue from marijuana sales would be used to fund children at risk before K.

The bill has been harshly criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia and other racial justice advocacy groups.

“Today the Virginia General Assembly did not legalize marijuana for racial justice. Legislators paid lip service to communities that have suffered decades of damage from the racist war on drugs. Legislation is inconsistent with just reforms and delays justice, ”the ACLU said in a tweet.

Groups fully opposed to legalization expressed concern that it could lead to an increase in drug-disabled traffic accidents and marijuana use among adolescents.

Republican lawmakers spoke out against the measure on Saturday night, saying such a critical issue deserves a less rash approach.

“I would say there are no more than two or three members of this body who have any idea how broad this bill is,” said Tommy Norment, chairman of the Senate minority.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.

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